August 17, 2023

What’s So Hot About Cold Email?

Promotional emails. They stuff your inbox at work and home. Some you’ve asked for. Others you’ve forgotten you asked for. And many seem so random you find yourself wondering how the heck did you get this. Or you may ask how well does this work. Well, the answers might surprise you. And that could be good news for marketing your own business.

There are two kinds of email marketing. Those emails you have opted-in or subscribed to are called permission-based emails. This means, at some point, you’ve given your direct consent to get emails from the sender. You probably signed up by a simple form on their website, like the one below, for subscribing to tdg’s email promotions.

Subscribe to tdg email

And now, the sender knows you are a prime lead! You’ve made the marketers’ jobs easier for them, and they love you for it. Now, they’ll try cultivating and converting your interest into a sale. That’s what all the emails they’ll send you are for. Hey, you ask for them.

Those other emails – the ones you’re sure you didn’t ask for? Those are cold emails. In classic sales lingo, the word cold denotes that the potential customer’s interest is unknown or weak. Emails are dubbed “cold” because the senders don’t have direct consent to contact the recipients. In this case, cold means a lack of permission, not a gauge of interest.

At this point, you may wonder, is cold email legal? That’s a fair question. And the answer is yes. Or no. Or maybe. It depends on where in the world you are emailing and what’s in the email. The CAN-SPAM Act defines the rules for sending commercial emails in the United States. The emails must have a clear and obvious opt-out mechanism and accurate header information. Also, they must not contain deceptive subject lines or false or misleading information. In other words, make it easy for people to stop receiving these emails when they say so. And don’t be a lying jerk. This applies to permission-based emails, too.

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) makes Europe’s rules much stricter. There, permission-based is your only option for promotional emails.

Giving Cold Email the Cold Shoulder?

Some marketers praise permission-based email while turning their backs on cold email. After all, sending unwanted sales messages to unknown recipients can be obtrusive. And risky for the brand. Done recklessly and at volume, it’s called spamming. But not all cold email is spam. It can be an effective marketing tactic when done carefully and thoughtfully. So, how do you do that, and, more importantly, should you do that?

Maybe you’re expecting the first step is picking a well-reviewed cold-email platform. Or, better yet, finding a knowledgeable partner to work with, like tdg (wink, wink.) If so, you’re right; that should be a first step. Unfortunately, in their exuberance for the promise of cold email (who can blame them,) some businesses dive in too quickly and buy third-party email lists!

Rule #1: Never Purchase Third-party Email Lists

This is true for permission-based and cold email marketing. These lists are tempting due to their size and affordability. Imagine buying thousands of qualified leads at bargain bin prices. Sounds too good to be true. So, trust the experts when they shout, “They’re JUNK!”

The problem with most third-party lists is how they are collected. The list providers often use web scraping programs to scan websites for email addresses to collect. Ethics aside, scraped addresses are often inaccurate or outdated. Email servers will reject (or bounce) messages to invalid addresses. Too many bounced emails may get the sender blacklisted, meaning any email from the sender’s domain is destined for the spam box.

Web scrapping is so problematic for some web domains that spam traps are deployed. As the name implies, spam traps are email addresses specially intended to catch and blacklist scrappers.

You can be removed from a blacklist. Many automatically expire after a certain amount of time, from a couple of days to several weeks. Others will have complex appeal processes. But no matter what, you’re already busy enough and do not want to deal with being blacklisted.

So, given the risks, is cold email worth it? That probably depends on your industry, what you are promoting, and your customers. Let’s say, for example, you’re a healthcare provider. Your potential customers are also patients. Any cold email may send the wrong message about valuing patient privacy. Or, if you’re a law firm, cold emailing to promote certain practice areas, such as personal injury, might seem sleazy – we know how much you hate that word.

And, speaking of lawyers, this article should not be taken as legal advice. When in doubt, talk to an attorney.

So, where do lists come from if third-party lists can’t be trusted? Well, from the second party – which is you!

Rule #2: Build Your List, Start Small, and Do Your Research 

Cold email works best when you know who you’re sending to. That might seem like a contraction. But remember, “cold” means you don’t have explicit (direct, specific) permission. Your cold email list should be built on implicit consent – folks that are likely interested but haven’t given consent or denied receiving promotional emails from you. But who are they?

For B2B marketing, you can start with your in-person contacts. Remember all those business cards you’ve collected at chamber mixers? Or tradeshow? If you haven’t already entered them into your contacts, now is the time to put them to good use. If you’re serious, get a CRM (customer relationship management) going.

If you belong to trade or business organizations, ask them to share segments of their membership lists appropriate to your offerings.

And don’t forget your current customers. They might be good candidates for your list if they haven’t given or denied you permission to send them promotional emails. As you should in all cases, but especially with existing customers, tread lightly. You don’t want to upset a good thing. If you can, review their purchase histories – see if opportunities may result in better value to a customer. Use your judgment, and lean towards restraint.

Your list might seem a little small. But that could be good since extensive lists frequently trigger spam. Starting with a small list helps build your email reputation, which allows you to expand it over time.

Rule #3: Have Something Specific to Say

That may seem obvious, but it’s more complicated than it looks. Hardsell messages will likely get your email deleted. Too soft, and readers might feel like you’ve wasted their time. Delete. Too many emails, too soon. Block!

Your best bet is to focus your message on the customer’s need and the value your business represents. Be direct. Get specific. Get to the point. And, while you are required to give the means to opt-out easily, be sure to provide a clear call to action.

Rule #4: Don’t Freeze in Cold

Alone, cold emailing probably won’t produce desired results. It should be viewed as one tactic of a larger digital marketing strategy that may include permission-based email, targeted search and display ads, etc. Multiple tactics lend credibility to your marketing efforts.

Cold email isn’t suitable for everything. Nor should it be dismissed out of hand. We’ve just scratched the surface of what there is to consider. At tdg, we’re big fans of permission-based email. We’re even bigger fans of doing whatever works to achieve marketing goals. Want to know what tactics fit your marketing needs? We’re here to help. Let’s talk.

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